Violent storms are battering North America, while plunging temperatures are bringing chaos to Britain and parts of Western Europe. What was thought ‘impossible’ just a decade ago has now happened in just six months – this summer the Gulf Stream altered significantly.
Scientists are now certain that the unusual weather system approaching the UK from the north Atlantic will freeze up most of the British Isles and parts of Europe for the next four months. It is expected that this system will hit northern cities by Sunday and this winter will see temperature drops of 5 to 10 degrees C.
Since the early 1990s, there has been a radical shift in the scientific understanding of Earth’s climatic history. We had thought that abrupt climate change might happen in a few decades. Now we know that that abrupt regional climate shifts have occurred in less than a single year, a mere 8,000 years ago.
These temperatures have not been seen since 1814 when the ice on the Thames was thick enough for a 5-day ice festival. Dr Viktor Ismailovich of the Russian Academy of Sciences says that this will be a sudden repeat of the ‘mini ice age’ that occurred from 1300 to 1850.
European consumers have created a major run on stores to stock up on supplies for the coming ‘deep winter’ as fear of major traffic and transportation disruptions become the norm.
A new ice age is upon us.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
1993: Analysis of first ice core samples shock scientists>
The first scientific projects to drill ice cores through the entire two-mile depth of the Greenland ice sheet, which started back in 1989, deliver their first core samples to laboratories for testing.
Analysis of the ice cores, which preserve 110,000 years of climate history in year-by-year layers, are awaited with keen interest by the global scientific community.
The results are surprising and unnerving. Scientists had known from previous ice core and ocean sediment core data that Earth’s climate had fluctuated significantly in the past. But what astonished scientists was the rapidity with which these changes occurred. The ice core records showed frequent sudden warmings and coolings of 15°F (8°C) or more.
Many of these changes happened in less than 10 years. And in at least one case 11,600 years ago, when Earth emerged from the final phase of the most recent ice age (an event called the Younger Dryas), the Greenland ice core data showed that a 15°F (8°C) warming occurred in less than a decade, accompanied by a doubling of snow accumulation in three years. Most of this doubling occurred in a single year.
2003: Colder weather, but no new ‘ice age’ says new US report>
A 2003 report prepared for the US Department of Defense on a possible shut-down of the Gulf Stream warns that much colder temperatures would occur in Europe and North America should this occur. This would not be enough to trigger a new ‘ice age’ says the report.
But the effects would be major:
• Annual average temperatures would drop by up to 5°F in North America, and up to 6°F in northern Europe. This is not sufficient to trigger an ice age, which requires about a 10°F drop in temperature world-wide, but could bring about conditions like those experienced in 1816 – the famed “year without a summer”. In that year, volcanic ash from the mighty Tambora volcanic eruption in Indonesia blocked the sun’s rays, significantly cooling the globe. Snow fell in New England in June, and killing frosts in July and August caused widespread crop failures and famine in New England and northern Europe.
• Annual average temperatures would warm by up to 4°F in many areas of the Southern Hemisphere.
• Multi-year droughts in regions unaccustomed to drought would affect critical agricultural and water resource regions world-wide, greatly straining food and water supplies.
• Winter storms and winds would strengthen over North America and Europe.
2004: Hollywood blockbuster slammed by climatologists as ‘dangerous nonsense’.>
Hollywood blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow is released. The US$125 million movie depicts global weather chaos caused by the phenomenon of Abrupt Climate Change (ACC).
The science behind The Day After Tomorrow is based on the idea that greenhouse warming – triggered by rising levels of industrial gases in the atmosphere – could disrupt the ocean currents that bring warm, salty water from the tropics to eastern America and Western Europe.
The movie, which uses special effects to graphically show the start of a new ice age in the US, accompanied by snowstorms sweeping New Delhi, hailstones the size of grapefruit battering Tokyo, and Manhattan being submerged by a tsunami, triggers near panic in some communities.
This, according to the movie’s producers, is the shape of things to come. Our world is going to freeze, not boil. It may sound like science fiction, but the producers claim their chilling vision is factual.
But a number of leading climate researchers interviewed by UK newspaper The Observer describe the movie’s premise as dangerous nonsense. “It is highly misleading to suggest we are going to freeze in future,” said climatologist Dr Doug Benn, of St Andrews University. “Global warming is likely to continue. We should be focusing on real environmental problems, not worrying about sensational disaster stories.”
The Office of Science and Technology in Britain reports that four million homes faced flooding as a result of climate change, while in Science magazine, a team from the University of Washington, Seattle, reveales that there has been a slowing in the circulation of Arctic currents.
Ice age advocates point out that the strength of the Gulf Stream has dropped by about 20% over the past 50 years, and the current has ‘switched off’ at least once since the end of the last ice age – about 10,000 years ago.
At the same time, Dr Wally Broecker of Columbia University, the scientist who first pointed out the link between the Atlantic’s conveyor circulation and abrupt climate change, argues in a fiery letter to Science magazine that a global-warming-induced Abrupt Climate Change is not likely to occur until 100 years or so into the future, by which time Earth’s temperature will have warmed sufficiently to offset much of the abrupt cooling a Gulf Stream shut-down would trigger.
Attacking the US Defense Department report on Abrupt Climate Change, Dr Broecker writes: “What is needed is not more words but rather a means to shut down carbon dioxide emissions.”
The authors of the study defend their scenario: “We have created a climate change scenario that, although not very likely, is plausible, and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately.”
2007: Global warming accelerating, warn scientists>
The Union of Concerned Scientists warns of highly unpredictable global weather conditions as both developing and industrialized nations fail to meet targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Union said that China and India were continuing to edge up the ‘pollution ranks’ and one or both would soon overtake the US as the world’s no.1 polluter. “Global warming is not merely continuing, it is accelerating,” said Dr Simon Bunesco, the Union’s spokesman.
The warning came in the wake of new reports of a sudden increase in fresh-water run-off into the oceans caused by global warming and accelerated glacial melting. This has renewed concerns that the ‘Great Ocean Conveyor Belt’, which distributes warm and cold water around the globe and is instrumental in maintaining weather conditions, may be disrupted.
“No-one knows exactly what the result of this could be,” said Dr Bunesco. “But we know from geological history that extreme weather conditions are inevitable.”
2010: Continued growth in Asia and US accelerates global warming>
China becomes the world’s worst polluter, with India moving into a strong third place, close behind the US, which continues to defy European pressure to reduce carbon emissions.
China’s car population, which was 20 million in 2006, reaches a staggering 70 million, and is expected to exceed 140 million by 2020. And industrial growth in Asia is continuing unabated, driven largely by coal-fired energy.
Dire climate change warnings are starting to come true. The UN predicted in 2006 that by 2010 global greenhouse gas levels, far from being reduced as planned through the Kyoto protocol, would reach levels 10% higher than the 1990 base. The bad news is that this negative target was reached a year earlier in 2009.
2011: “We may be past tipping point of climate change”>
A new series of major hurricanes batter the US East Coast, causing billions of dollars of damage, while unexpectedly severe storms sweep the Atlantic. At the same time, Africa and parts of Asia experience intense droughts.
Scientists warn that the world’s climatic system is becoming increasing unpredictable. “We may well have passed the ‘tipping point’ of climate change,” says Professor Michael Atwood, Britain’s Chief Scientific Adviser.
“Sea levels are rising. Global temperatures have increased at an even faster rate than our worst-case estimates. Glaciers are receding all over the world, and there is now incontrovertible evidence that the Gulf Stream is slowing. We are fast approaching our nightmare scenario, and no-one knows just what will happen next.”